Freemasonry under the United Grand Lodge of England is the UK’s largest, secular fraternal and charitable organisation. It has over 300,000 members working in nearly 8,000 lodges throughout England and Wales and 30,000 more members overseas.
What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry means different things to each of those who join. For some, it’s about making new friends and acquaintances. For others it’s about being able to help deserving causes – making a contribution to family and for society. But for most, it is an enjoyable hobby.
Those who become active members and who grow in Freemasonry do so principally because they enjoy it. They enjoy the challenges and fellowship that Freemasonry offers. There is more to it, however, than just enjoyment.
Participation in the dramatic presentation of moral lessons and in the working of a lodge provides a member with a unique opportunity to learn more about himself and encourages him to live in such a way that he will always be in search of becoming a better man, not better than someone else, but better than he himself would otherwise have become, and therefore be an exemplary member of society.
Each Freemason is required to learn and show humility through initiation. Then, by progression through a series of degrees he gains insight into increasingly complex moral and philosophical concepts, and accepts a variety of challenges and responsibilities which are both stimulating and rewarding. The structure and working of the lodge and the sequence of ceremonial events, which are usually followed by social gatherings, offer members a framework for companionship, teamwork, character development and enjoyment of shared experiences.
What Promises do Freemasons take?
New members make solemn promises concerning their conduct in the lodge and in society. These promises are similar to those taken in court or upon entering the armed services or many other organisations. Each member also promises to keep confidential the traditional methods of proving he is a Freemason which he would use when visiting a lodge where he is not known.
The much publicised “traditional penalties” for failure to observe these undertakings were removed from the promises in 1986. They were always symbolic, not literal, and refer only to the pain any decent man should feel at the thought of violating his word.
Members also undertake not to make use of their membership for personal gain or advancement; failure to observe this principle or otherwise to fall below the standards expected of a Freemason can lead to expulsion.
Who can join?
Membership is open to men of all faiths who are law abiding, of good character and who acknowledge a belief in God. Freemasonry is a multi-racial and multi-cultural organisation. It has attracted men of goodwill from all sectors of the community into membership. There are similar Masonic organisations for women.
Freemasonry and Theology:
Freemasonry has no theology and does not teach any route to salvation. A belief in God, however; is an essential requirement for membership and Freemasonry encourages its members to be active in their own beliefs.
Although every lodge meeting is opened and closed with a prayer and its ceremonies reflect the essential truths and moral teachings common to many beliefs, which is not discussed in lodge meetings.
Lodge meetings, like meetings of many other social and professional associations, are private occasions open only to members.
Freemasons are encouraged to speak openly about their membership, while remembering that they undertake not to use it for their own or anyone else’s advancement. As members are sometimes the subject of discrimination which may adversely affect their employment or other aspects of their lives, some Freemasons are understandably reticent about discussing their membership. In common with many other national organisations, Grand Lodge neither maintains nor publishes a list of members and will not disclose names or member’s details without their permission.
In circumstances where a conflict of interest might arise or be perceived to exist or when Freemasonry becomes an issue, a Freemason must declare an interest.
The rules and aims of Freemasonry are available to the public. The Masonic Year Book, also available to the public, contains the names of all national office-holders and lists of all lodges with details of their meeting dates and places.
The meeting places and halls used by Freemasons are readily identifiable, are listed in telephone directories and in many areas are used by the local community for activities other than Freemasonry. Freemasons’ Hall in London is open to the public and ‘open days’ are held in many provincial centres.
The rituals and ceremonies used by Freemasons to pass on the principles of Freemasonry to new members were first revealed publicly in 1723. They include the traditional forms of recognition used by Freemasons essentially to prove their identity and qualifications when entering a Masonic meeting. These include handshakes which have been much written about and can scarcely be regarded as truly secret today; for medieval Freemasons, they were the equivalent of a ‘pin number’ restricting access only to qualified members.
Many thousands of books have been written on the subject of Freemasonry and are readily available to the general public. Freemasonry offers spokesmen and briefings for the media and provides talks to interested groups on request. Freemasons are proud of their heritage and happy to share it.
Is Freemasonry involved in the community?
From its earliest days, Freemasonry has been involved in charitable activities, and since its inception it has provided support for many widows and orphans of Freemasons as well as others within the community. All monies raised for charity are drawn from amongst Freemasons, their families and friends, while grants and donations are made to Masonic and non-Masonic charities alike.
Over the past five years alone Freemasonry has raised more than £75m for a wide range of charitable purposes including those involved in medical research, community care, education and work with young people.
Freemasonry has an enviable record of providing regular and consistent financial support to individual charities over long periods while at the same time making thousands of grants to local charities, appeals and projects throughout England and Wales each year. For the future, opportunities to obtain or provide matched funding are periodically examined with a view to enhancing the impact of the support Freemasonry can give to specific projects. The personal generosity of Freemasons and the collective fundraising efforts of almost 8,000 lodges, however, will continue to determine the contribution Freemasonry makes within the community.